Alexandria, VA

A 20-year-old Alexandria man faces life in prison plus 13 years for five felonies, including the murder of 47-year-old John Pope last fall in the West End.

Pope was shot to death on Sept. 30 at his home in the 5900 block of Quantrell Avenue in the Mayflower Square apartment complex. He later died at the hospital. It was the second murder (of three) that occurred in Alexandria last year.

Tavon Lanier, who was 19 at the time the incident occurred, was indicted with:

  • First degree murder
  • Use of a firearm in commission of murder
  • Robbery
  • Use of a firearm in the commission of a robbery
  • Illegal possession of a firearm

“Alexandria Police responded to the apartment and found John Pope, a 47-year-old Alexandria resident, lying on the floor with an apparent gunshot wound to the abdomen,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter’s office said in a statement. “First Degree Murder and Robbery are both punishable by life in prison. The two Use of a Firearm charges carry a maximum penalty of 8 years in prison. The Illegal Possession of a Firearm charge carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. Therefore, the maximum total sentence in this matter is life in prison plus 13 years.”

A trial date has not been set.

As previously reported, Lanier was released on bond just eight days before Pope was killed. He was arrested on Sept. 22 for for allegedly breaking into his girlfriend’s apartment, stalking and threatening her and was released on bond by the magistrate’s office.

Lanier was convicted of identify theft in 2019, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail with 55 days suspended.

Photo via Facebook

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It was a cold and snowy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on plans to redevelop the GenOn power plant in Old Town North. It looks like deconstruction of the plant will start in 2023 and developers are looking at converting it into an urban, mixed-use property with housing.

The short work week started with news that Alexandria reached 10,000 cases of COVID-19. The latest figures show that there are 10,113 cases and 104 total deaths in the city, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The city’s seven-day moving average is now 35.1 cases.

A 49-year-old homeless woman was found dead in Arlandria on Tuesday morning, and the mayor told us that homelessness is on the rise in the city. ALXnow is following up with the city on the issue.

Tuesday morning also brought news that Alexandria City Councilman Mo Seifeldein abandoned his run for mayor and will not seek reelection to council. Seifeldein was hired as a trial lawyer by the U.S. Department of Labor in Jan. 2020, and while he can finish out his term on council, he can not run unless he files as an independent candidate.

In other election news, the race for city council is starting to get crowded, as Bill Rossello, a co-founder of the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook Group, just threw his hat into the ring.

On the vaccine front, the waiting list has surpassed 45,000 and it may be until late summer that the vaccine is widely available in the city. On Thursday, Mayor Justin Wilson also asked the governor to open vaccine eligibility for restaurant, personal care and retail workers.

More than 200 people responded to this week’s poll on power outages. There have been a number of outages over tha last year, and 73% of respondents reported experiencing an outage, while 26% report that their homes haven’t been impacted.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories this week:

Here are our top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Developers Lay Out Multi-Year Timeline for GenOn Plant Redevelopment
  2. BREAKING: Homeless Woman Found Dead on Mount Vernon Avenue
  3. Alexandria Boxer Troy Isley Goes Pro With Big Fight Next Week
  4. Seifeldein Not Running for Mayor, Leaving Alexandria City Council
  5. ALXnow’s Top Stories this Week in Alexandria
  6. Director of Finance: Alexandria’s Real Estate Assessments Are a ‘Tale of Two Markets’
  7. Local Business Owner Robbed of Car While Pumping Gas at Old Town Gas Station
  8. Torpedo Factory Overhaul Heads to City Council Next Month
  9. Snow: Up to 6 Inches of Snow and Ice Expected in Alexandria
  10. BREAKING: Alexandria Police Investigate Second Car Stolen While Owner Pumps Gas
  11. Local Facebook Watchdog Group Founder Bill Rossello Announces Run for City Council

Have a safe weekend!

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After 16 months in operation, the Alexandria Drug Treatment Court has its first graduate. The program, which the Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney’s Office started with little funding, also just got a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The Treatment Court launched in September 2019 as an alternative to jail for individuals with substance abuse issues. Most participants have been to jail multiple times. Participants usually meets every Thursday in the Alexandria Courthouse, although the building at 520 King Street is largely shut down now due to COVID-19 and meetings have been held virtually.

Program graduate Kim Christian (not her real name) entered the five-phase program in Nov. 2019 and graduated in a virtual ceremony ahead of schedule, as two years is the program average. She regularly met with a case manager, a probation officer, participated in recovery programs and regularly checked up with the court.

Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said the virtual ceremony was a moving experience.

“One of the most wonderful things about the ceremony was the fact that the graduate, for the first time, had people within the criminal justice system trying to help her achieve something,” Porter told ALXnow. “The graduation ceremony was a true testament to the power of the program, and making a change.”

The new funds will allow Porter to triple the program for up to 30 participants, hire a full-time bilingual therapist, and also hire a treatment court coordinator to take administrative duties off the plate of David Lord, the assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney who has largely led the effort. Drug testing for participants will also be expanded.

Porter said it will take six-to-nine months to hire the new staff and expand the program. In the meantime, he said, the program will be slowly ramped up to increase the number of participants.

“The idea is to try to finally put some resources into them to kind of break that cycle of addiction and then recidivism,” Porter said. “One graduate is great, but we need more graduates.”

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Morning Notes

GoFundMe Raises $29K for Family of Bishop Ireton Student — “It is with a heavy heart that the BI community mourns the death of our fellow classmate Andrew Benson, who was taken from us much too soon. He was one of the nicest people we knew and was a member of the BI varsity soccer team. He played fullback  and was an avid soccer player and was one of the hardest workers on the team. He always had a smile on his face and he never failed to make you smile with a joke or make a stressful or hard day a little better.  Please donate if you can or remember him in your thoughts and prayers. All proceeds go to the family and to help with funeral arrangements.” [GoFundMe]

Holy Cow Honors Sue Kovalsky with ‘Burger of the Moment’ — “Sue, we appreciate you! This #BOTM is for you.” [Facebook]

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter Announces Reelection Bid — “I hope that you will join us online for our campaign kick-off on Wednesday, March 3rd at 7:00 p.m. This will be a great opportunity to learn more about how you can be involved in this campaign and our vision of criminal justice reform.” [Facebook]

Virtual Open House on FEMA Flood Map Update Process — “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is updating its flood maps of Alexandria and has requested that the City of Alexandria provide community outreach assistance. The City will host a virtual open house on March 1, from 7 to 8 p.m. Residents and businesses are encouraged to participate to learn more about the update to the floodplain maps.” [City of Alexandria]

Bennett-Parker Gets More Endorsements in Race for 45th District Seat — “I’m honored to announce I have been endorsed by Arlington County Board, Vice-Chair @kcristol and Board Member @libbygarvey! Both have an impressive record of public service and I look forward to continuing to work with them on the issues that are important to our region.” [Twitter]

ALIVE! Free Food Distribution Set for Saturday — “On Sat, Feb 20, 8:30-10:30am, @ALIVE4AlexVA will distribute food in Cora Kelly Elem School parking lot and parking lot B-1 of NOVA-Alexandria Campus (map at alive-inc.org, if college closes due to weather, distribution cancelled).” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — “Intervals of clouds and sunshine (during the day). High 36F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph… Cloudy (in the evening). Snow showers developing after midnight. Low 28F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of snow 80%. Snow accumulating 1 to 3 inches.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Real Estate Photographer — “Nova Virtual Tours, Inc. provides photography, videography, aerials, and interactive 3D Virtual Tours to all industries. We work closely with realtors in the Northern Virginia area to provide them with marketing tools and media to sell their listings, and we also work with commercial clients in many different industries within NoVa and beyond.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer Says Biden Needs Support — “President-Elect Biden must be given all the support he needs to take the helm of government, including swift consideration and confirmation of his team, so that he can take the country forward. We have no time to lose – there is serious work to be done.” [Twitter]

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter Was on Jeopardy — “This picture is from years ago when I had the opportunity of a lifetime to appear on Jeopardy and personally meet Alex Trebek. He was as warm and engaging as you would think he was. Today we mourn his loss. He was a television icon and philanthropist who left the world a much better place. My heart goes out to the Trebek family and to the families of all who have been impacted by this terrible disease.” [Facebook]

Mayor Reminds Residents of Celebrating Biden Win Without Fireworks — “Just a reminder from your Mayor/Wet Blanket: Fireworks remain illegal in the City of Alexandria #CelebrateResponsibly” [Twitter]

City Recommends Celebrating a Virtual Thanksgiving — “The City and the AHD strongly urge those celebrating Thanksgiving to choose lower risk activities to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks, rather than the traditional indoor gatherings and traveling.” [Twitter]

City Tearing Down Robinson Terminal North — “AlexRenew is demolishing the building as part of its much larger plans to improve Alexandria’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria’s Tree Lighting Goes Virtual on Nov. 21 — “Alexandria’s annual Tree Lighting ceremony that rings in the holiday season will be a little different this year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the event that usually takes place at Market Square will be held online on Saturday, Nov. 21.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Areas of patchy fog early. Partly cloudy skies. High 72F. Winds light and variable. A few clouds overnight. Areas of patchy fog. Low 54F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Development and Communications Specialist — “The Campagna Center’s (TCC) Development Specialist plays a vital role in ensuring that TCC’s donors feel good about their giving. The individual will act as the first point of contact for stewardship activities and donor requests, always presenting an amicable demeanor, a can-do attitude, and appropriately reflecting TCC’s mission and values.” [Indeed]

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The 19-year-old man arrested for the September 30 West End murder of John Harding Pope was released on bond just eight days before Pope was killed.

Tavon Marquis Lanier was arrested  Sept. 22 for allegedly breaking into his girlfriend’s apartment, stalking and threatening her and was released on bond by the magistrate’s office.

“By law, he was entitled to a magistrate’s decision on bail, which occurred in the magistrate’s office while in police custody,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter told ALXnow. “My office by law has no role to play and was not present during that hearing, nor was the defense attorney. The magistrate, based upon what was being told to him by the police officer who made the arrest, determined to release the individual on bail.”

Lanier was convicted last year of identify theft, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail with 55 days suspended. He was set to appear in court on December 4 to provide an update on his progress.

The 47-year-old Pope was shot to death at his home in the 5900 block of Quantrell Avenue in the Mayflower Square apartment complex. He later died at the hospital. Neighbors described the suspect as a light-skinned young man with tattoos on his face.

Pope’s murder is the second homicide this year in Alexandria. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Ryan Clinch at 703-746-6673.

The first homicide occurred a mile-and-a-half away on July 29. In that case, the suspect, Ibrahim Bouaichi, was released on bail and allegedly killed his former girlfriend while awaiting trial. He later killed himself while on the run from police.

Photo via Facebook

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A 39-year-old Arlington man has been sentenced to 65 years in prison for raping two lifeguards at gunpoint in Alexandria and Fairfax County.

Jesse Bjerke, a former nurse at Inova Alexandria Hospital, pleaded guilty last year to raping a lifeguard at a condominium complex swimming pool in the 200 block of Pickett Street on Labor Day weekend in 2016, as well as raping another woman in Fairfax County on August 1, 2014.

“The judgement shows an understanding for the violence and the pre-planning that went into these atrocious crimes,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. “I think it will serve our community since he can’t be a predator on any other woman.”

Alexandria Police were able to locate Bjerke using genetic geneology.

“A DNA profile was developed from the sperm located within the victim, but a search revealed no match in law enforcement databases,” according to the city. “After traditional attempts to identify a suspect were unsuccessful and all leads had been exhausted, the Alexandria Police Department contracted with Parabon® Nanolabs to have the suspect’s DNA analyzed using genetic genealogy. Parabon® investigators used a public access site called GEDmatch to search for relatives of the suspect. Using the list of relatives and the strength of the relationship, Parabon® was able to suggest one suspect for further investigation: Jesse Bjerke, the defendant.”

As part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Bjerke admitted to raping a lifeguard in Fairfax in 2014, and both cases were tried simultaneously.

“When he is 65, he can apply for geriatric release,” Porter said. “But with my experience with violent crime that’s unlikely.”

Porter congratulated the police on finding the suspect.

“The police department really should be praised and did an outstanding job in corroborating that we have the right man,” he said. “And, of course, that led to a very solid case from an evidence standpoint, which in turn led to him taking responsibility for his crime.”

A description from the city of the 2016 incident is below the jump.

Read More

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Hundreds of people honored Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Old Town last night (Thursday).

Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87 on September 18. She served on the court for 27 years.

Speakers included Virginia gubernatorial candidate Delegate Jennifer Carrol Foy, Mayor Justin Wilson and City Councilwoman Amy Jackson, Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter, attorney Corey Tisdale and Colleen Haddow Gehrig.

Video by Taylor Brown

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Morning Notes

Former Councilman Bob Calhoun Dies — “Bob Calhoun, a former Republican state senator and city councilor, died on Aug. 6 of prostate cancer. He was 83.” [Alex Times]

ACPS Staffer at John Adams Elementary Registration Site Tests Positive for Coronavirus — “The site has currently been closed for cleaning and ACPS will follow all guidelines for ensuring that our facilities are clean and safe prior to reopening. The risk to anyone who was in contact with this individual at the school site has been deemed low, due to the specific circumstances of this case, including proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and physical distancing.” [Facebook]

Alexandria Libraries Reopening on Monday — “The library will move into phase three of its reopening plan by allowing the public to access physical locations. Curbside pickup will remain available on days when libraries are open, and curbside-only service will be offered on Fridays.” [Patch]

Poet Laureate Seeks Poems for BLM Display at Athenaeum — ” We continuously celebrate the creativity of our diverse population in the DMV region and plan to launch an online digital gallery, Speak Your Truth | Black Lives Matter, an exhibition that aims to represent the depth and diversity of the DCD/MD/VA region and its reflections on the activities associated with BLM. ” [Facebook]

Commonwealth’s Attorney Seeks Candidates for Advisory Board — “The purpose of the Board is to provide the Commonwealth’s Attorney with diverse community input and ideas regarding criminal justice reform, and strategies for addressing criminal activity. The Board will consist of five to 10 people who live or work in the City of Alexandria.” [City of Alexandria]

Casa Chirilagua Fundraiser Starts Monday — “For every gift of $50 you will receive a stationary set of 8 original notecards made from Teens Club students’ art (up to four sets). Check out these beautiful cards and keep an eye out for the giving link starting on Monday next week!” [Facebook]

National Night Out Canceled — “Due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and in order to protect the health of our residents and employees, the City of Alexandria has cancelled the National Night Out 2020 celebration scheduled for October 6, 2020.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Scattered showers and thunderstorms. High near 85F. Winds NE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 60%.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Fitness Manager — “As a Fitness Manager with XSport Fitness, you are the face of the Fitness Department! You are a leader to your personal training staff as well as an assistant to the club General Manager. You will be responsible for building a high-performance team and the financial performance of your club’s fitness department.” [Indeed]

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Ibrahim Bouaichi, the Maryland man suspected of murdering Karla Elizabeth Dominguez Gonzalez in the West End last week, was released from jail on bond earlier this year while awaiting trial on charges that he attacked and raped her last fall, according to court records.

Gonzalez was shot and killed on July 29 at around 6 a.m. outside her home on S. Greenmount Drive in the West End. Soon after her death, Alexandria Police identified Bouaichi as a suspect and said that he was armed and dangerous.

It is the first homicide in Alexandria this year.

On August 5, the 33-year-old Bouaichi fled from police after being tracked down in Prince George’s County, Maryland. He crashed the car he was driving after a brief chase with Alexandria police officers attached to the FBI’s regional Violent Crimes Task Force, and was found to have shot himself, police said.

He is currently in the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

“Officers approaching the vehicle found Bouaichi with a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Alexandria police said in a news release. “He was transported to a hospital, where he is currently receiving medical treatment.”

Bouaichi paid a $2,500 premium on a $25,000 bond on April 9 ($5,000 per charge for five charges) in exchange for agreeing to stand in court from May 4-6 for burglary, abduction, sodomy by force threat, strangulation and rape. According to court records, he said that he had a four-month-long relationship with Gonzalez.

Recently retired Alexandria Chief Circuit Court Judge Nolan Dawkins approved Bouaichi’s bond after he served nearly six months in the Alexandria jail for the violent incident that allegedly occurred on October 9, 2019.

Bouaichi attended his bond hearing virtually from jail, according to court records.

“The two individuals involved were boyfriend/girlfriend and there is a substantial defense here,” Bouaichi’s attorneys wrote in the bond motion. “Mr. Bouaichi can be released under any appropriate conditions to live with his mother and father at their home in Maryland. He has a solid record of employment, graduated high school, attended college and is not a flight risk. He has retained counsel and is absolutely devoted to working with his attorneys to establish his innocence.” Read More

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